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Desert Companion

Year of the noodle

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Shang Artisan Noodle's house bowl: brisket, noodles and bok choy in beef broth
Photos by Christopher Smith

Shang Artisan Noodle's house bowl: brisket, noodles and bok choy in beef broth

No matter how you slurp it, 2016 was a great year for noodles

Take some wheat flour. Mix it with water. Maybe add an egg yolk. Next, knead the mixture, shape it, boil it and behold: You have noodles. But there’s an elusive magic to the seeming simplicity of fresh pasta. If you’ve ever clamped a stainless-steel noodle machine to your kitchen counter and cranked out laughable fiascoes of sad squiggles, you know that making it from scratch is perhaps best left to the experts.

Luckily for us, there’s been a flourishing of eateries specializing in housemade noodles in the past year or so, especially in terms of Asian cuisine. A handful of newer Italian establishments are making noodles in-house, too. And, of course, there are the mainstays that are still going strong, venerable local noodle-makers who have been quietly carrying on the tradition for years. This year saw an alphabet soup of culinary trends, but I, an avid ramen-slurper and devoted pasta-twirler, declare it the Year of the Noodle. Here are some of the best places in the valley to get them.

 

Soup’s on

The first of the new wave of fresh-noodle restaurants is Noodle Man (6870 S. Rainbow Blvd., 702-823-3333), one of the numerous Asian eateries that’s turned South Rainbow into a Chinatown rival. In a handsome room with artistic calligraphy on the walls, the house specialty is Shanxi knife-sliced noodle soup. Sit at the low counter open to the kitchen and watch a chef deftly whittle a brick of wheat dough away, shreds flying into a pot of boiling water. Once cooked, the strands meet chewy chunks of beef in a generous bowl. Rich broth, black fungus, pickled greens, scallions, and cilantro lend lively flavor to the popular dish.

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Spicy tonkatsu ramen at Ramen KoBo

Spicy Tonkatsu ramen at Ramen KoBo

Also new in the southwest corner of Las Vegas, Ramen KoBo (7040 S. Durango Dr. 702-489-7788) is drawing crowds of culinary Japanophiles with its delicate ramen and fiery broths. Created this summer by the folks behind the perennially popular Monta Ramen in Chinatown, this small shop specializes in spicy varieties of soup. With their delicate strings making a base in wide bowls, chefs pour in rich, chili-tinted broth and add sliced roast pork, ground pork, bamboo shoots, black mushrooms and fried garlic. (I like to add in extras like soft-boiled egg, black garlic oil, chives and chopped mustard greens for an extra karate kick of savory goodness.) As a bonus, you can watch the ramen being made at the front of this frequently crowded nook. It’s hypnotic.

Newly opened Shàng Artisan Noodle (4983 W. Flamingo Road, 702-888-3292) puts on a dramatic live show with its hand-pulled noodles. Artisans in the open kitchen take a clump of dough and stretch and twist it dozens of times until it becomes a skein of pliable cords. With the swoosh of a knife, they’re flung into boiling water. Once firm, they’re scooped into bowls such as the house specialty of beef broth, brisket and bok choy. Slurping sounds are inevitable when tackling the dish.

In Chinatown, Niu-Gu (3400 S. Jones Blvd., 702-570-6363, niugurestaurant.com) is thrilling diners with Chef Jimmy Li’s xiao long bao, or soup dumplings. Thin sheets of handmade noodle are wrapped around a filling of minced pork and flavored aspic. After being steamed, the gel melts and bursts out when diners pop the morsels in their mouths with chopsticks. It’s a delectable thrill.

Notable Asian restaurants can be found on the Strip as well. At Dragon Noodle Co. in the Monte Carlo (702-730-7965, dragonnoodlelv.com), the kitchen staff hand-rolls pasta sheets around pork filling for their signature wontons. The dumplings can be added into their numerous soups, such as spinach-tofu, seafood-tofu, and chicken-corn. At China Poblano in the Cosmopolitan (702-698-7900, chinapoblano.com), hand-cut wheat noodles define the classic Dan Main, which features spicy pork sauce and peanuts.

In addition, local mini-chain Ohjah Japanese Steakhouse (multiple locations, ohjahsteakhouse.com) has expanded its pasta footprint with a pair of noodle parlors focusing on soba and ramen. If you want to split the difference and prepare fresh Asian noodles at home, venture to Louie’s Noodle Shop (4248 W. Reno Ave., 702-214-2918, louiesnoodle.com). An actual factory, it sells retail bundles of chow mein, rice noodles, saimin and even carrot-flavored versions of ramen, among others. It takes some hunting to find the location, so it’s noodles à la GPS!

 

That’s Italian

The foodways of Italy are famously pasta-centric. But before taking a look at Las Vegas ristoranti, a little myth busting is in order: That old saw about Marco Polo bringing noodles from Cathay? Hokum! European noodles were written about well before his supposed journey. For a wide palette of pastas, a visit to Pasta Idea (7668 W. Lake Mead Blvd., 702-485-5666, pastaidea.com) is a must. A tiny, well-lit space, the shop produces a roster of 15 varieties, including pappardelle, cavatelli, rigatoni and ravioli. My go-to is their bigoli, which look like spaghetti strands that went to the gym. Bulky and chewy, they’re best topped with hearty sauces such as Amatriciana — that is, marinara laced with abundant chilies and cured meats.   

Pumpkin spice gnocci at Portofino.

Since 2014, Chef Michael LaPlaca of Portofino in the Mirage (866-339-4566) has been advancing Italian cuisine, raising the standard of quality, yes, but also experimenting with form and flavor. For the winter season, the kitchen is rolling and cutting pillow pumpkin spice gnocchi. Tossed with braised venison, candy-cane beets, chestnuts and gingerbread crumble, it’s one of the most evocative pasta dishes in town.

Squid in fetuccine at the Pasta Shop Ristorante

Squid ink fetuccine at the Pasta Shop Ristorante

Also in the realm of eye-popping pasta is the house special at Pasta Shop Ristorante (2525 W. Horizon Ridge Pkwy., 702-451-1893 pastashop.com), a funky, art-filled eatery in Henderson. It’s a deep bowl holding squid ink-tinted fettuccine in a saffron cream sauce. Crowned with grilled shrimp, the combination of black noodles and golden sauce has been a local favorite for nearly three decades. On a sad note, owner David Alenik — who once was a personal chef for none other than both Frank Sinatra and Steve Wynn — passed away in September. However, his wife, Ann, and two children, Trent and Bianca, are carrying on the family tradition in the kitchen and front-of-house. And for all those squid ink fans across town (that includes me) there’s more. The always excellent Carson Kitchen (124 S. 6th St., 702-473-9523, carsonkitchen.com) has a seasonal special on the menu: housemade spaghetti al nero with calamari.

Another venerable restaurant that makes top-notch pasta in-house is the ultra-Vegasy Ferraro’s (4480 Paradise Road, 702-364-5300, ferraroslasvegas.com). All the noodles are made on-site, including spaghettini, bucatini and tagliatelle. The notable casarecce dish features twisty, short noodles tossed with a garlic, zesty sausage, and rapini (the mouthwateringly bitter cousin of broccoli). Fittingly, casarecce means homemade in Italian.

No survey of Italian pastas is complete without lasagna. Or, at least in terms of Chef Marc’s Trattoria (8615 W. Sahara Ave. 702-233-6272, chefmarcstrattoria.com), an assemblage called Malfiata. Made with wide noodles and beef short rib, it’s a more informal version of the famous casserole. Its root words, loosely translated, humorously combine as poorly made, though the dish is quite the opposite. Another establishment that has fun with names is Gina’s Bistro (4226 S. Durango Drive, 702-341-1800, ginasbistrolv.com), which serves Strozzapreti alla Norcina. It features long, folded-over cylinders topped with creamy sausage ragù and truffle oil. The name translates to priest-choker.

 

The wider world

Beyond the Asian and Italian housemade noodles of Vegas, Germany and Russia are represented as well. For a Teutonic treat, the spaetzle at Café Berlin (4850 W. Sunset Road, 702-875-4605, cafeberlinlv.com) are handcrafted. The rustic batons are built to soak up ladles of rich gulasch. For a Slavic experience, the pelmeni at lively Forte Tapas (4180 S. Rainbow Blvd., 702-220-3876, barforte.com) are pasta-wrapped umami torpedoes of wild mushrooms slathered with rib-sticking beef Stroganoff. Finally, if you’re set on making noodles on your own, pick up a pasta machine at Sur la Table or Williams-Sonoma. But if you can’t make the magic happen in your own kitchen, it’s nice to know that the expert noodle-makers all over the valley have dinner covered.